By Joe Donatelli for Shape.com
If you smell onions in someone’s socks over the next few weeks, do not be alarmed. That person is probably just fighting a cold.
Everyone seems to have a custom "miracle cure" for the common cold, and it seems the more creative the solution, the less bashful they are about sharing. A recent poll of Facebook friends revealed the following methods, all of which the practitioners stand by (in their onion-filled socks, in some cases):
- Heaps of vitamin C
- Chicken soup, preferably homemade by Mom
- Natural foods, fresh colorful veggies, and supplements
- Chopping and eating a raw yellow onion (with a little salad dressing for taste) followed by a warm bath or a long shower to open the pores
- Oscillococcinum, which is a homeopathic alternative medicine
- Thieves Essential Oil
- Coating feet with Vicks Vapor Rub and wearing a pair of socks overnight
- Socks filled with peeled onion layers
- Cardio, a few sips of whiskey, and cold medicine
- Outdoor activity, hydration, and rest
Is the mighty common cold so wimpy that it can be defeated by a rubber ducky, menthol, socks, and a few lit candles? The answer lies in an interesting piece of research by Dr. Bruce Barrett at the University of Wisconsin.
In Barrett's study, cold sufferers were split into four groups—one group was given no pills, a second and third group were each given Echinacea or a placebo but were not told which pill they received, and a fourth group was given Echinacea and was told it was Echinacea. Each participant was asked to rate the effectiveness of the medicinal herb Echinacea.
The results: The illnesses of people who believed in Echinacea and received pills were considerably shorter and less severe -- regardless of whether or not the pills contained Echinacea.
What does that mean for you? "A positive outlook matters," Barrett says. If someone believes a cold remedy works, it just might. No one knows for sure why. Barrett says that the manner in which the brain stimulates healing mechanisms through positive expectations is not entirely understood. But this certainly helps explain why there is a seemingly endless list of pharmaceuticals, alternative treatments, and quirky homemade solutions for treating the common cold.
As a practicing family doctor, Barrett strongly encourages the use of non-pharmaceutical cold remedies. For the record, I swear by orange juice, bananas and vitamin C, which in the wide range of solutions turns out to be quite tame.
"I was being interviewed on 'The People's Pharmacy' (radio program) and a guy called in who melts skunk fat and gives a teaspoon of it to his kids when they start getting a cold," Barrett says. "He swore it stopped all of the colds in their tracks. That's worse than onion in the socks."
Have any skunk fat handy? No? What's your go-to cold cure? Tell us in the comments below!
Want more on the beating a cold? Check out these suggestions for the best and worst foods for a cold from Ilyse Schapiro, R.D., C.D.N.
Yes, Mom, I'm drinking plenty of fluids. While there hasn't been any rigorous scientific research into the legitimacy of this cold cure, staying hydrated is important. A little extra H20 can also help thin mucus, possibly easing some of that congestion, says Schapiro, and "help to flush everything out." Lovely. Plain water may be the best, but tea is another good option, she says. Warm liquid can soothe a sore throat and further ease congestion, and tea is also rich in infection-fighting antioxidants, she adds. Flickr photo by brad montgomery
One of my co-workers suggested not just any liquid, but juice in particular. I know orange juice has a healthy reputation for all that immunity-boosting vitamin C, but juice also gets a bad rap for containing a heck of a lot of calories and not a lot of bulk. Schapiro agrees. "You don't want beverages with added sugars," she says. "Extra sugar hinders white blood cells from fighting infection." If you're looking for that dose of C, go straight to the unprocessed source. Have an orange or a grapefruit, or squeeze some lemon into your tea -- the fruit has more fiber, so it'll be more filling, and you'll only get the natural sugars, not the added ones in juice, says Schapiro. You can even find vitamin C in some surprising places, like kale and red bell peppers, she adds, if you're not in the mood for citrus. However, before you run out for a week's worth of grapefruit, keep in mind that the jury is still out on vitamin C's real cold-busting benefit. A 2007 study that followed more than 11,000 people over several decades found that the average person isn't benefitted all that much by a daily dose of vitamin C. Turns out, it's much more helpful to bodies under extreme physical stress, like marathon runners. Flickr photo by tasselflower
By day three of my cold, I'd had soup for more meals than not. It's easy to sip on when you're not so hungry (a cold-induced phenomenon I am not usually plagued by), and it's comforting, but does it really help? While the warmth could break up some congestion, there does seem to be something about soup -- and chicken soup in particular -- that works to fight against infections. "It's anti-inflammatory," says Schapiro, a finding supported by a 2000 study that examined the components of chicken soup individually, as well as the contents of the bowl as a whole. The researchers found you might feel even better if you can convince someone to make it for you. If only. Flickr photo by Robert Couse-Baker
I had to essentially force-feed myself the soup, but Schapiro says it's important to still get some protein "even when you don't feel like eating anything." Fish, chicken and turkey can help the organs that make your cold-destroying white blood cells, she says. Just stay away from fatty things, like a juicy steak or anything fried, since these foods are harder to digest and may suppress your immune system, she says. Flickr photo by bensonk42
Another co-worker offered the following cure: Steep some fresh ginger in boiling water until the water turns yellow, then drink it like tea with some honey. At the time, I couldn't bring myself to walk down and then back up the four flights of stairs to my apartment just for some knobby ginger, but turns out she was onto something. The root has anti-inflammatory properties, says Schapiro, and you can get a "two-for-one" by cooking up a ginger-flavored chicken dish, she suggests. Flickr photo by stevendepolo
"Eat garlic!" my boyfriend texted me, when I whined about my symptoms. "It's supposed to kill bacteria if you catch it early enough." My first reaction, as a health editor, was to wonder how he came by such wisdom, but turns out he's right (swoon). Regular garlic eaters seem to fight off colds, possibly because of the compound allicin's ability to block infections, the New York Times reported. "I would cook with it," says Schapiro. "Put it in the chicken soup, or with a chicken dish, or if you can tolerate it, cook vegetables like broccoli with it, for some extra antioxidants and vitamins."
I don't think anyone is going to throw a house party mid-cold, but maybe you're tempted to try a glass of wine to help you sleep. However, I have a hunch alcohol is what got me in trouble in the first place: a weekend of a little too intense exercise (a long run Saturday and a 90-minute soccer game on Sunday) washed down with a couple of beers instead of a couple of glasses (gallons?) of water. "There are properties of alcohol that decrease your immune system," says Schapiro, "it suppresses it, it doesn't let your body fight infection and it also dehydrates you." Guilty. Flickr photo by paulaloe
It's tempting to drown those sniffly sorrows in the bottom of an ice cream sundae, but rumor has it that dairy might make things worse. For every study that says you should avoid dairy products when you have a cold, there's one that says you needn't bother, says Schapiro. "Some people say to avoid it because it increases mucus, but others say it doesn't necessarily," she says. "I say try it, and if it doesn't aggravate you, then go for it," since dairy products can be good sources of protein and vitamin D, which can both help fight infections, she says. Flickr photo by SeRVe Photography